For the first time in four year, the Mortimer and Mimi Levitt Foundation will not be financially supporting Denison’s annual Music on Main concert series. Despite the news, event organizers said they expect to continue with the event as initially planned.
Earlier this month, the Foundation announced its list of 15 cities that will receive a $25,000 matching grant toward providing a series of public concert series across the country. Since 2015, when the grant series started, Denison has been a beneficiary of these grants and they have provided nearly half the funding for the local concert series.
“Each of the winners makes a compelling case for how the Levitt AMP Music Series will create vibrancy in a public space while strengthening the social and economic fibers of their community,” Levitt Foundation Executive Director Sharon Yazowski said in a press release issued earlier this month.
Calls to Levitt for comment by the Herald Democrat were not returned Friday.
Denison Main Street Director Donna Dow said Levitt did not give her a full explanation of why Denison will not be included in the program this year. However, she feels that need played a part in the decision.
“They didn’t really say (why), but it was based on need,” Main Street Director Donna Dow said. “I don’t think it was that Denison didn’t need it — others simply needed it worse.”
The decision on the 15 cities that would receive funding followed a voting campaign by local residents from 35 finalist cities. Of those, 25 were chosen to move forward to the final phase of judging for the 15 spots. During this year’s voting phase, Denison placed 20th among the participants. By comparison, in 2016 the city placed 21st, but still received grant funding.
“The relationship Levitt has had with us has always been positive,” Dow said in December. “We know they support our goals and our concert series meets nearly all of the parameters they set forth.”
Despite the funding blow, Dow said she does not see this as a significant hit to the event, which has been an annual attraction to the city for more than a decade. To make up for the loss, Dow said she plans to pursue other funding sources, including local organizations and foundations. Since starting fundraising efforts, Dow said many of the previous year’s sponsors have voiced support, but not all have responded yet.
“Besides the money, the only thing we are losing is the recognition associated with Levitt,” Dow said Thursday, referring to the social media support Levitt offers.
Dow said organizers started planning for this year’s concert series shortly after the end of last year’s event. Organizers began planning under the assumption they would receive the Levitt Grant for the fourth year in a row. With the grant in mind, organizers planned to pull a line up of acts similar to what it had while under Levitt and had contracted with a booking agent to help in those efforts.
Under Levitt, Denison was able to bring both well-known and up-and-coming artists to Heritage Park for the concerts. In recent years this included performances by veteran performer Billy Joe Shaver and Grammy Award-winning band Brothers Osborne.
In total, Dow said she expects organizers to spend $60,000 on this year’s concert series. This includes $40,000 on acts alone. This would put the concert series on par with previous years.
Despite the setback, Dow said there is a silver lining to not receiving the Levitt funding this year. While under the Levitt program, Dow said the foundation had final say and control of the artists picked for the concert series. As such, the city has regained some flexibility in choosing artists for the series.
Under Levitt, Dow said organizers had to submit a full list of acts for the entire 10-week concert series to Levitt for approval before any acts could be booked. As such, this kept some artists from taking part in the series due to scheduling concerns.
Dow said in previous years Levitt had denied Denison’s request to book some acts based on the mix of artists and diversity of genres in the line up for a given year.
“They did not want the same sound every two weeks,” she said.
For this year’s series, Dow said she planned to have a full list of artists by the end of February, roughly a month earlier than in previous years. She said this effort will be to ensure the public that this year’s series will be just as entertaining as previous years.
“I want people to understand that we are still going to have an awesome line up this year,” she said.
Dow was uncertain whether Denison Main Street would pursue the Levitt grant again in 2019, as she wants to see how well this year’s concerts go without Levitt’s support.
“Council will ultimately decide if we apply for 2019,” she said. “If we are able to increase our numbers by bringing in the artists we choose, then we will need to determine if that is what we want to do.”